“Not that one, dad!”
The book clattered against the wall and fell to the floor in a messy heap, pages spread. Han looked down at his hands for a moment, his now-empty hands where the book he had been planning on reading to the children had just been. It felt very much like the book had been slapped out of his hands, but the one who had done the slapping was a full meter away from him, huddled in bed with a blanket around her body and a frown on her face.
“What did I say about doing that at bedtime?” He asked his daughter.
Jaina’s frown turned into a pout. “Don’t do it.”
“Right. Jedi stuff is for when the sun’s up, but the sun’s gone down already and it’s time for my daughter to be sleeping.” Han stood up and went across the room to retrieve The Little Lost Bantha Cub from where Jaina had used the Force to throw it. “Now, let’s talk this through. What, exactly, is wrong with this book? You always love it when I read this one?”
“That’s Jacen’s favorite book.” Jaina protested, “He loves stories about animals.”
“I remember it being your favorite, too.” Han sat back down where he had been, ignoring the groan of pain from his lower back as he tried to jackknife himself into a chair that was several centimeters too low for him to sit in. “And Anakin’s. My memory’s not that bad yet, is it?”
“It used to be my favorite, but it isn’t anymore.” His daughter insisted. She had her arms crossed over her body now, in a posture that Han supposed she’d seen her mother use.
“Okay, okay.” Han sighed. Here he’d tried to plan the whole day out, their daddy-daughter day, to make sure everything went right. Jacen and Anakin were with Leia and Luke, off sightseeing on Ithor, but Jaina had caught a runny nose right before they were scheduled to leave that the pollen of Ithor was bound to aggravate, so Han had volunteered to stay behind with her and make it up to her as best he could. So far, things had been going well. They’d had a great homemade breakfast that she’d helped him cook, then met Chewie and gone flying for a while, he’d even let her sit in the Falcon’s pilot seat while Chewie made sure she didn’t crash them into anything. After that, he’d planned for them to head off to one of the open-air tech markets to browse for anything that struck her fancy, but Jaina had prompted a change of plans, she wanted to cruise by the nearest big spaceport and play “name that star cruiser” instead.
And now, right as they were about to come in for a smooth and easy landing at home with her favorite bedtime story, she’d thrown a wrench into the works. Because she wouldn’t be his daughter if everything went according to plan.
“So then,” He asked her, “If you don’t want that book, what do you want me to read for you tonight?”
“I dunno.” She told him, “Just not that one.”
“Right.” He shook his head. “Of course.” Han glanced around the room to see if any other books were even in sight. The only ones he could see were high up on a shelf and so dusty that they looked like they belonged in a museum. They’d barely ever been read because, up until now, The Little Lost Bantha Cub had been the only book they needed.
Jaina must have caught what he was looking at, because she snapped, “Not those either!”
Han had to take a deep breath and remind himself that she was too young and too tired to be polite, or even fully reasonable. It was one of those things that came with being a father, you had to learn to be patient in ways that you didn’t even think were possible. “So you want a new bedtime story, then? Not any of these old books?”
Jaina shrugged. Of course, she didn’t know what she wanted exactly. She was too young to really express what she was feeling. But it had been a day full of new and exciting experiences for her, and apparently coming home to the same old book just didn’t feel right to her for some reason.
“How about this then.” Han unfolded himself from the chair and walked over to her bed. “Mind if I sit down?” He asked her.
In response, Jaina shuffled back so she was sitting at the head of the bed and left room for him to sit at the foot of it.
Han smiled and gave her a bow of his head. “Thank you.” He sat down, very grateful to not be sitting in the chair anymore, and leaned back against the wall. “So, here’s the plan. Tonight, I’ll tell you a new story. A special story that’s not in the books. Then tomorrow, we get Threepeo to tell us where the nearest bookstore is and we go there to see if there’s something new you’ll like. How’s that sound, pilot Solo?”
Jaina’s face unfolded from the frown it had been stuck in and her mouth flipped upside down into a smile. “Okay.”
“Okay.” And then Han had to rack his brain for a moment to try and think of something he could tell her that a kid would enjoy. He knew a lot of stories, all kinds of stories, but most of them weren’t great for kids to hear. And unlike Threepeo, he couldn’t spice his stories up with sound effects and music and those sorts of things. “Now, I’ve got a story that I don’t think you’ve ever heard before. In fact, there’s not a lot of people in the whole galaxy who know this story, except maybe your uncle Chewie and maybe uncle Lando, if he hasn’t blotted it out of his memory.”
“Is this a true story?” Jaina asked with a quizzical twist to her brow.
“Maybe, who knows?” Han answered, giving her an innocent look. “We’ll have to wait until we hear it, won’t we?”
“But you’re telling the story, don’t you already know what kind of story it is?”
“Jaina, I tell a lot of stories, and sometimes it’s hard to remember which ones are true and which ones aren’t. So if I start telling you this story, and you think you remember hearing it before from somewhere, then it might be true.” Han cleared his throat. “Ready?”
Jaina huddled deeper into her blanket, bringing it up around her arms and shoulders, so only her face was visible over it. “Ready.”
“Okay. This is a story that happened a long time ago on a planet really far away from here. It was back when Chewie and Lando and me first met, back when the Empire was still in charge of everything and there wasn’t much anyone could do to try and fight against them. It was so long ago, I hadn’t even met your mom yet. It was just me and Chewie and Lando, trying to stay one step ahead of the Empire and all the big-shot gangsters out there.”
Jaina’s eyes were already shining. “Did you die?”
Han chuckled. “No, sweetheart. Not that time anyway. But it was really, really close. See, there was this job we were on, trying to get some coaxium hyperspace fuel, take it away from the Empire and get it over to some other people who needed it and would pay us for it.”
“Were they Rebels?”
“Maybe. They weren’t part of the Rebellion, the Rebellion didn't exist yet, but they sure didn’t like the Empire very much. Here, let me start at the beginning. Me and Chewie, we teamed up with Lando and his droid friend Elthree, because the deal was, we would steal the fuel, and then Lando would help us take it to where we needed to sell it. But there was this gangster, Dryden Vos, a big mean guy with nasty red tattoos on his face, who really wanted the fuel instead…”
Han told her the story. It had been a long time ago that any of it had happened, so most of it was half-remembered and he went back over some things more than once, since Chewie and Lando weren’t there to back him up. But Jaina hung on every word, eyes wide, listening with way more focus and attention that she usually did. She barely even asked any more questions. And eventually, as he kept going, her eyes started to drift closed and her head started to sag downward. Eventually, right before he got to the part where they wound up on Savareen and they met up with the Cloudrunners again, Jaina’s head dropped and she collapsed forward into a heap.
Han got up from the bed and reached over, gently taking Jaina out from the heap she’d fallen into and laying her down at the head of her bed, head on her pillow, and tucked her covers up around her. Maybe she’d be asleep for the rest of the night, maybe not, but at least she was asleep for now. As he finished tucking her in, looking down at her peacefully slumbering face and listening to her soft snores, it struck Han again how much Jaina was like her mother, but also how she was very much like him. She loved the excitement of the story, she loved the thought of adventure, but she wanted to make sure that the good guys would win in the end.
He gave her a soft kiss on the forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart.” He whispered to her, “We’ll finish the story some other time.”